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Smokin' in L.A.

Despite Stringent Antismoking Laws, L.A. Residents and Visitors Still Have Plenty of Places To Enjoy a Fine Cigar
Jean T. Barrett
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

Last October's Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke in Los Angeles took place under the stern governance of California's new law that bans smoking in most places of employment. From the get-go, zealous local regulators covered the cigar extravaganza at the Century Plaza Hotel like a wet blanket, determined at all cost to prevent smoking in a dining area. It seemed as if every time I turned around I faced a no-smoking sign--this at a cigar event!

As the festivities drew to a close, I left the downstairs function rooms and took an escalator up to the lobby, ascending, to my amusement, into a swirling miasma of cigar smoke. There, several dozen contented gentlemen and ladies were openly--and legally--enjoying their stogies, along with adult beverages, in the lobby bar, without a sign or regulator in sight. (Areas of hotel lobbies, bars and clubs are currently exempt from the new law.)

Such are the contradictions one finds in Southern California, where a sweeping no-smoking regulation would seem to have utterly outlawed enjoyment of cigars--only it hasn't.

L.A. is smokin'. Just try to get a last-minute reservation at Hamilton's, the cigar bar next to the Wine Merchant of Beverly Hills. Or drive down the coast, pull into the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey and follow the faint scent of Dominican leaf to the hotel's Library bar, where local cigar lovers like to hold court. On a warm summer night, reserve an outdoor table at Schatzi on Main in Santa Monica and light up with impunity. If anybody beefs, tell 'em Ah-nold (as in Schwarzenegger, who owns the joint) said it was OK.

The long arm of the law notwithstanding, entrepreneurs in the L.A. hospitality industry have figured out a number of legal ways to accommodate cigar smoking patrons. One method is to put dining tables outdoors. In Southern California, dining alfresco is an option many months of the year. Just remember it's not tropical here and evening temperatures often dip down to chilly levels. Although most outdoor dining areas in L.A. are protected or semi-protected by wind breaks, and most also have propane heaters, a jacket or wrap is often needed.

Following is a sampling of some of the most popular places in the Los Angeles area to enjoy a fine cigar, ranging from tobacconists to nightclubs and private clubs, to hotel and restaurant bars. Many additional L.A.-area restaurant, hotel and club bars, as well as tobacconists, accommodate cigar smokers, so it's best to call and check, particularly since an establishment's cigar policy can depend on who's on duty.

A final, sobering note: All this could change as of Jan. 1. Unless other preemptive legislation passes, the new antismoking law's other shoe will drop on New Year's Day, banning smoking in California bars.

CIGAR EMPORIA

The Beverly Hills Pipe & Tobacco Co.
218 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills
(310) 276-3200

The TV is nearly always on in this old-fashioned shop that sells more than 70 brands of cigars. Mornings, customers pop in for a smoke and monitor their investments on the business channel; in the afternoon, customers watch sporting events over a cigar or two.

The Big Easy
12604 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City
(818) 762-EASY (3279)

A large neon sign above this Ventura Boulevard storefront proclaims CIGARS; in the window, a smaller neon display spells out "Fine Cigars--Smoking Room--Private Humidors--Sanctuary." The latter is indeed found at the Big Easy, a comfortable, low-key lounge decorated with funky vintage furnishings. Technically, this is a cigar store; there's no liquor license or food service, but patrons hang out here for hours chewing the fat and enjoying their smokes.

Century City Tobacco Shoppe
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard (Century City Shopping Center), Los Angeles
(310) 277-0760

Century City Tobacco Shoppe offers a full line of cigars and accessories, including humidors, cutters, lighters and cigar books.

Davidoff of Geneva
232 Via Rodeo/North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
(310) 278-8884

This sleek boutique offers an array of luxury merchandise, from sterling cigar ashtrays to Montecristi Fino Panama hats. Davidoff is renovating an upstairs smoking club, the Keep, set to reopen in late spring.

Alfred Dunhill of London
201B North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills
(310) 274-5351

Take a break from having your Dunhill suit tailored and settle into an armchair in the upper level humidor of this London-based establishment. Dunhill offers a full line of cigars, humidors and accessories and also maintains private lockers in the humidor.

Gus's Smoke Shop
13420 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks
(818) 789-1401

A Valley institution since 1927, this shop has an adjacent 800-square-foot private smoking club with overstuffed chairs, a pool table and poker tables; the membership fee is $500 a year and members receive a 20 percent store discount.

Thomas Hinds Tobacconist
9632 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills
(310) 275-9702

This attractive storefront just steps from Rodeo Drive houses a lounge area with comfortable chairs and plenty of magazines, and a spacious walk-in humidor with a wide selection of cigars. Humidors, cigar cutters and cases, lighters and a wealth of other necessary paraphernalia are available.

The Tinder Box
2729 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica
(310) 828-4511

This tobacco shop offers a wide array of cigars and accessories and has a walk-in humidor. While smoking is permitted in the store, it has no lounge area.

CIGAR BARS AND CLUBS

Grand Havana Room
301 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills
(310) 446-4925

You have to cultivate a current member to get into the Grand Havana Room. This exclusive private club, operated by United Restaurants Inc. (which owns On Canon, the restaurant downstairs), was closed to new members last year after admitting 400 who were willing to pony up the $2,000 initiation and $150 monthly membership fees. Once inside the elegantly furnished domed room, you may admire the vast, glass-walled walk-in humidor (with 340 private lockers rented to members, including Tony Danza, Mel Gibson, Joe Mantegna and Milton Berle), sip a cocktail at the bar, lounge in a leather-upholstered armchair or dine on an outdoor balcony. Look for Grand Havana Rooms opening in New York, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Hamilton's
9713 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills
(310) 278-0347

Sumptuously overdecorated with antiques and memorabilia from actor George Hamilton's personal collection (note the red, GSH-monogrammed horse blanket that is casually thrown over a sofa arm), Hamilton's is the consummate Beverly Hills cigar bar. Hamilton and wine-purveyor-to-the-stars Dennis Overstreet (of the Wine Merchant of Beverly Hills) collaborated on this establishment, which boasts a humidor and several private rooms. Hamilton's has a full bar; you can also bring your bottles purchased from the adjacent Wine Merchant's stock for a corkage fee. Appetizers and light snacks are served. Reservations are suggested; jackets for men are preferred in the bar and required in the Raj Room, where entertainment is offered after 8:30 p.m.

Havana Studios
245 East Olive Avenue, Suite 100, Burbank
(818) 557-7600

Downtown Burbank may seem like an unlikely place for a cigar club, but Havana Studios draws an eclectic crowd from nearby television, film and recording studios. Owned by Nick Nikkah of Red Carpet Wines & Spirits of Glendale, Havana Studios offers a spacious clubroom, a comprehensive list of fine wines, beers and spirits, a cigar boutique and a walk-in humidor with lockers. Memberships are $750 for the initiation fee and $100 a month, which includes a $50 monthly credit toward cigar and accessory purchases.

Philip Dane's Cigar Lounge
9669 South Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills
(310) 285-9945

Just up the street from Hamilton's, this redwood-paneled, retro-themed lounge attracts a crowd of young, unpretentious folk who like to select their cigars from the walk-in humidor and to place their drink orders with one of Philip Dane's comely cigar girls. Dane, 29, explains, "I wanted a place where I felt comfortable at any hour of the day or night, whether I was wearing ripped jeans or an Armani suit." Dane has a beer and wine license and has applied for a full liquor license; a catered buffet is offered nightly. VIP memberships are available for $800 annually, which includes a $50 monthly merchandise credit.

CIGAR FRIENDLY RESTAURANTS AND BARS

Bambu
3835 Cross Creek Road, Malibu
(310) 456-5464

Bambu permits smoking at tables on its spacious patio. Owner Jeanette Farr holds frequent cigar nights on the patio; call for the schedule.


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